Notes and Editorial Reviews
Versions of Mozart's opera come tumbling out from the companies. No sooner had I finished considering the Erato/Barenboim version last month than this new one was on the doorstep. It proves a winner. Whereas the performance of the Overture on the Barenboim set raised false expectations, in this case Marriner's rather uptight, almost peremptory account of the work's prelude and of the first scene are quite untypical of what's to follow. As the piece develops Marriner's shapely, well-paced, alert view of the opera becomes ever more impressive. Though he sees the story as basically cynical, he is quite able to bring out the true sentiments in Act 2, most notably the warmth of ''Il cor vi dono'', the inner torment of ''Per pieta'' and the quite
different anguish of ''Tradito, schernito'', while as expected catching the mercurial wit and humour of Guglielmo's ''Donne mie'' and all the music for Despina and Alfonso. He also makes us aware that Mozart wrote no more inspired finale, not even in Figaro, than that to Act 1, which is discerningly and decisively paced, alive to every aspect of the drama. There's none of the unstylish lingering of Barenboim nor his tendency to project the work into the nineteenth century and, while I admired the beautiful playing of the Berlin Philharmonic, its contribution does sound unsuitably weighty beside that of the Academy of St Martin, which plays with character and aplomb for its founder, the allimportant wind solos interpreted with great distinction of phrase.
Last month I commented that a tendency to reach for other sets to make comparisons was indicative of some dissatisfaction with the newcomer. On this occasion, I did begin by setting Marriner beside Sir Colin Davis, because that version comes from the same stable (Philips) and is, like the new one, absolutely complete (unlike the Erato), including Nos. 7, ''Al fato dan legge'', and 24, ''Ah, lo veggio'', but I soon found myself so caught up with the new version's delights that I was unwilling to release myself from its spell. This has much to do with Philips assembling a cast of singers, all of whom—with the possible exception of the Despina—have reasonable acquaintance with their roles on stage. Erato made much play with the creation of an ensemble and long study of the opera, but it is the new Philips that scores in that department through its sense of a stage performance and of joy in artists working together. The recitative is not only bright and vivid in delivery (benefiting from John Constable's continuo contribution) where that is called for, but also sensitive and finely moulded where that is the need: Mattila's expression of Fiordiligi's confused thoughts before ''Per pieta'' show that to perfection. Then Erik Smith, the producer, has astutely provided just enough sense of a staging to make us believe this is a live performance—as when the Ferrando and Guglielmo approach from the distance in the Act 1 finale.
Individually, and as a team, the singers equal or surpass those on the Erato set. The most marked superiority comes in the lower voices. Van Dam seems close to being an ideal Alfonso—at once a fatherly figure, friend and schemer. His contribution both to the ensembles and recitative is masterly in accent, faultless in delivery. Allen proves as charming and seductive a Guglielmo as any on disc, using his nut-brown voice and command of line to most seductive purpose and rolling his Italian round his tongue as to the manner born. As ever, his sense of Mozartian style is admirable. Elzbieta Szmytka is a more fiery, spitfire Despina than Joan Rodgers (Erato), not better just different, more like Watson (Haitink—EMI), but even more adept in her singing. Both her arias are pointed and keen in delivery, never arch and both are buoyantly supported by Marriner.
Anne Sofie von Otter provides just the right mock-heroics for ''Smanie implacabile'' and feeling of liberation in ''E amore un ladroncello''. Like her colleagues she gives immense character to her recitatives, which bubble off her tongue. If any caveats have to be entered they concern Karita Mattila. She sometimes sounds as if she is singing on the flat side of notes and there are moments where she makes slightly heavy weather of her runs—in that she yields points to Cuberli (Erato). To console us she presents a more affecting and appealing woman than Cuberli. You feel with Mattila, as you do with Vaness (Haitink), the emotional turmoil Fiordiligi is put through, the voice rounded and lambent in ''Per pieta'', so that her capitulation to Ferrando is that much more heartfelt. And what a Ferrando! Araiza first came to notice at Aix in 1978, where I believe Karajan spotted him. It remains perhaps his most convincing role. He is as technically able as any of his predecessors, as his fluent account of ''Ah, lo veggio'' shows—very much justifying its inclusion—and finds as much or more feeling in the part than any of them with a voice that can at once be more forceful and melting, his tone more varied than Aler's (Haitink) or Streit's (Barenboim).
My opinions on other versions are well known from earlier reviews. I still think Davis's eloquence has much to offer in this piece (but his cast is not as well integrated as Marriner's) and Bohm's set (EMI), not so complete as this new version or the Davis, is in a sense hors concours. No, this set's main modern rival is the Haitink. If you have that you don't need to consider the new one. If you don't posses it, you should seriously contemplate the Marriner—at the moment my preferred version.
-- Alan Blyth, Gramophone [11/1990]
Works on This Recording
Così fan tutte, K 588 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano),
Francisco Araiza (Tenor),
Elzbieta Szmytka (Soprano),
Thomas Allen (Baritone),
Karita Mattila (Soprano),
José Van Dam (Bass)
Sir Neville Marriner
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Written: 1790; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 07/1989
Length: 190 Minutes 48 Secs.
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